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How to Choose a CPU — Find The Best CPU For You

This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know to choose the best CPU and make sure it is compatible with your PC.

In this Article:

What is a CPU?

Learn more about the importance of a Central Processing Unit (CPU), the control center of your computer. 

What Will You Use Your PC For?

In order to determine the right CPU for you, you should first assess what you need from your PC.

Important CPU Specs

Learn about some of the most important specifications you should consider when choosing a CPU. 

Types of CPUs

Explore the different CPU options available on the market. 

How to Choose Your CPU

Read a recap of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a CPU. 

A central processing unit, or CPU, is the control center of your computer. Its  specifications let you know precisely what your PC is capable of accomplishing. There are many types of CPUs to consider, so how do you know which is best for you? This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know to choose the best CPU and make sure it is compatible with your PC. Let's get started.

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What Will You Use Your PC For?

Knowing how you will be using your PC is crucial in choosing the best CPU for you. Knowing just how much power you need can help balance your budget to other areas of your build.

The first step in building any computer is to determine what that PC's primary use will be. Knowing your needs will allow you to prioritize where to spend when purchasing your CPU. If you’ll only be using your machine for basic office work or browsing the web, for instance, you can save some money on your CPU because you will not necessarily need high performance. Other tasks, however, require a more powerful processor, such as 3D rendering and 4K video editing. Some devices such as servers, desktops or mobile devices may also require specific processors to perform their best.

Important CPU Specs

Specifications, or specs for short, are the characteristics that inform you of everything the CPU is capable of performing. The specs can tell you how fast the CPU operates, how hot the component can run and other vital information, such as if the chip has dedicated graphics. Here are some of the most important specs to help you choose a CPU.

Core Count

You can think of cores as individual processors. Each extra core adds significant performance to the CPU. Having more cores helps the processor multitask because each core can be focused on a specific task. CPUs with numerous cores have become the new norm as modern software and games begin utilizing multiple core CPU technology to increase performance drastically.


If cores are the individual processors in the CPU, then threads are the number of tasks that those cores can perform at any one time. This is important to know because modern CPUs will often have more threads than cores. This means that each core can perform more than one task at a time. Adding threads is not as powerful as adding cores but does increase the CPU's overall performance. When comparing two CPUs with the same number of cores, the CPU with more threads may offer greater power.

Clock Speed

Measured in hertz (Hz), the clock speed is the rate at which the processor operates. Typically, the faster the CPU runs, the better it performs, but that is not always the case. Factors previously mentioned, such as core and thread count, can also significantly impact performance. When determining CPU power, it is essential to consider all three of these specs. A slower CPU with more threads or cores could easily outperform a high-speed processor with less threads or cores.

TDP (Thermal Design Pattern)

The TDP of a processor is essentially how much heat the component is going to give off. This number is important because it lets you know just how much cooling you are going to need for that CPU. Some processors come with cooling options that can help save money on your overall budget.

There are many options when choosing how to cool your CPU, so make sure you know exactly how cool your processor needs to be. Overheating a processor can result in catastrophic PC failure and cost you unnecessary time and money. 


A CPU's cache functions like that of a computer's memory or RAM. The cache is a small segmented section of memory that stores temporary files, and this data can be accessed extremely quickly. Processors with a larger cache size can store more data for rapid retrieval and processing.


Like all tech, CPUs are constantly releasing new versions and upgrades. New generations often showcase cutting edge technology that can have a drastic effect on performance. Sometimes, expensive new features may not be needed for your build — so purchasing an older generation could save you money. Keep in mind that as new generations come out, so does new software that utilizes that generation's technology, which may be needed to run programs optimally.

Integrated Graphics

A CPU that has integrated graphics does not need a graphics card to connect to a display. The lack of a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) may make some tasks impossible, but the CPU has more than enough resources for most basic workplace tasks. Other specifications may be more important to overall performance, but integrated graphics are affordable and have their place in the CPU world.

Match Your CPU to Your Motherboard’s Socket

Nothing is more frustrating than going through all the steps to choose a CPU just to find out that it doesn’t fit in your build or is incompatible with your motherboard. The enclosure on a motherboard that holds a CPU is called a socket. They come in many different shapes and sizes, so it is essential to know what type of socket your CPU uses.

For example, various CPU manufacturers can require different sockets, making them compatible only with specific motherboards. 

Types of CPUs

There are several types of CPUs out there. Knowing your budget and workload are key in determining what type of processor is best for you. Narrow down your choices first by determining which type of CPU you need.

Mobile CPU

Designed with mobile devices and laptops in mind, these CPUs tend to be slower than their desktop or server counterparts. On the other hand, they are generally more compact so they can fit within these devices. 

Server CPU

Rigorously tested and built to run 24/7, server processers are the powerhouses of the CPU world. These components are tested in high-temperature and high-stress simulations to ensure that no matter what, your server can keep running optimally. Server processors are ideal for hosting multiple applications, maintaining regular backups or processing mass amounts of data. These processors are by far the most powerful option, but they come at a much higher cost.

Desktop CPU

Like other CPUs, a desktop processor's job is to process data, but with a desktop user in mind. These processors are not designed to run a heavy workload non-stop but instead focus on other user needs. Desktop CPUs are more affordable than their server counterparts and can excel at tasks like gaming or internet browsing. These processors can also be used for overclocking, allowing users to push their components to the utmost limit. There are many different desktop CPUs out there, so it's important to know what specifications to pay attention to when shopping.

How to Choose Your CPU

Now you know everything you need to in order to choose the best CPU for your machine. Here’s a quick summary to help you decide:

  • Determine PC Workload. After determining your PC's expected workload, you’ll know just how powerful your CPU will need to be.
  • Budget. You can balance your budget for your CPU, being careful not to overspend or purchase a processor that is unable to meet your needs.
  • Review Specs. By paying attention to vital specifications like core and thread count, clock speed, and more, you can compare your top choices to make your selection.
  • Match Motherboard Socket. Before finalizing any purchases, make sure to check that your motherboard has the right socket shape for your CPU.
  • Match Motherboard Chipset. Ensure that your motherboard's chipset is compatible with your CPU so you can make full use of all of your CPU and motherboard features. 

Once all of this is in order, it’s time to get to the fun part—building your PC.

Find the Best CPU at CDW

We hope this guide on how to choose a PC has helped you narrow your options down. If you’re ready to shop, explore the CPU selection at CDW today.

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